My proven formula for cheerfulness
By Lucy Kellaway
Published: January 17 2010 20:33 | Last updated: January 17 2010 20:33
Monday is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. Not long ago, a man in Cardiff University came up with a formula that linked the weather, debt, the time since Christmas and various other factors to a measure of discontent, like this:
If you plug the appropriate variables into this most curious of equations, it will tell you that the third Monday in January is as bad as it gets.
As the equation seems a little complicated, I’ve come up with a simpler, more convincing formula: MDD + MG = ££££. Where MDD is the most depressing day and MG are motivational gurus who seize on it as a way to hawk their wares.
Jessica Pryce-Jones is one of these new cheerfulness experts who has produced tips to help workers get through Monday. First, she says, we must stop getting upset about bankers’ bonuses and think instead about people less fortunate who have lost their jobs. I recall a similar argument being deployed by the dinner ladies at my primary school when we refused to eat our vinegary beetroot. They would say: think of the starving children in Africa. As an eight-year-old, I didn’t understand how that made the beetroot any more palatable – and I still don’t.
However, I obediently tried to think about someone who has recently lost their job and Baroness Susan Greenfield came to mind. Ten days ago she was kicked out as head of the Royal Institute, the world’s oldest independent research body, leaving her enemies crowing in delight and her threatening to sue.
This story really is quite cheering. It makes me profoundly grateful not to be a leading academic, because the egos are so large and the scope for advancement so small, and because there is so little money at stake, bitchiness, plotting and bad-mouthing are more popular pastimes than in any other line of business.
It also makes me glad that I’m still doing what I’m trained to do – writing – and not having to manage anything. The Greenfield story shows what a mess you can get into when you take someone who is good at neuroscience and let them start bossing people around and then give them a cheque book to spend £22m on tarting up a building.
However, the story is also tinged with sadness. There are so few loudmouths who survive at the top or even get there in the first place that it is sad to lose one of the few examples left. The only one I can think of who is still comfortably in situ is Jamie Dimon, who looks safe for now as JPMorgan is doing so well that it revealed on Friday it was paying out $9.33bn in the things we are not meant to be thinking about.
But really I don’t see what harm it does thinking about bonuses. There is no evidence that dwelling on bankers’ undeserved riches makes us depressed at all; on the contrary, I find all the indignation, disgust and outrage rather enjoyable in a self-righteous sort of way.
Ms Pryce-Jones’s next idea for making Monday a bit happier is to say hello to everyone in the morning. I’ve just done a dry run and have to report that the scheme is problematic. I greeted a colleague I don’t know from Eve and she looked startled. Now I fear I’ve set a dangerous precedent and if I don’t greet her tomorrow, she’ll think I’m cutting her dead. One of the great things about being British is that saying good morning is optional to the greeter and not always welcome to the “greetee”. When someone says “good morning!” to me in an excessively bouncy way first thing, it makes me want to growl back: “What’s good about it?”
Her third suggestion is that we do something difficult on Monday, on the grounds that succeeding at something hard makes us feel great. This seems a crazily high-risk strategy as failing at something hard makes you feel terrible – and difficult things, by definition, carry a high probability of failure.
Still, the fact that all these tips are hopeless may not matter much. If Monday is really the most depressing day of the year, by bedtime the worst will be over. Tomorrow will be better all by itself, without us doing a thing. But in case anyone wants to take a more proactive approach to alleviating Monday’s misery I have another formula that I’ve tested on a statistically significant number of occasions. I + M = H, where I stands for me, H stands for happiness and M stands for a packet of Maltesers.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.